College and Arthritis

Preparing for college

If college is in your future, you'll need to think about many things in selecting which one to attend. First, you'll need to prepare for college. Preparation for college begins in high school. One of the steps is to prepare for admissions tests, such as the SAT and the American College Testing Program's ACT Assessment test. SAT and ACT scores are important because they are used by many college admissions officers, together with other factors, to measure academic achievement and how well a person is likely to do in college. The SAT is a multiple-choice test made up of verbal and mathematical sections. The ACT measures your skills in four major areas: English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning. You may apply to take either test with special accommodations (arrangements) if you have a physical disability and an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) on file at your high school. More information is available from: Educational Testing Service ACT Law Services, Test Administration, 661 Penn Street, Box 2000-T, Newtown, PA 18940-0995 for information about accommodations for taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) General selection issues In deciding on a college, you'll want to weigh a number of issues.

Program

If you are interested in a particular field of study, you'll want a college with a strong and respected program in that specific area. If you're still undecided, you may prefer a college that is strong across the board so you can try out a number of possible concentrations. Before you select a school with a strong graduate program for undergraduate study, make sure its graduate admission policies are not biased against its own undergrads.

Distance

You'll probably think about how near to your parents you'd like to be. If you have not had much experience in taking care of yourself or managing your own finances or living independently, you may wish to be near home. Or you may seize the opportunity to strike out on your own.

Atmosphere

You'll need to think about the college's unique atmosphere: whether it is large or small, urban or rural, competitive or low-key, diverse in its student body and extracurricular activities or homogeneous.

Special Issues for Students With Arthritis

As a person with arthritis, you should take other factors into account when making your decision. You may have a disability or have difficulty in moving about or get tired easily. These factors could affect your choice of college, since some schools are more accessible to people with disabilities than others. It is usually better to choose a school that already offers many services than to have to ask for many specific accommodations. Most schools have an Office of Disabled Student Services (or an office with a similar title), and this should be one of your first contacts at colleges you are considering. At schools that place a strong emphasis on being accessible to students with disabilities, these offices may be able to help you in many ways. They can help you get: academic support, such as special notetaking, testing, or classroom accommodations physical support, such as accessible parking, transportation, housing, or personal assistance adapted recreation and athletics career or vocational support information about helpful community resources Experts strongly recommend that you visit the campus of the school you plan to attend to make sure it is as accessible as advertised.

Physical factors in selecting a college

Enrollment: A large university may have more services in place for students with disabilities; a small one may be more flexible and personal. Size and geography: A very large campus, or one that is very hilly, may be hard to negotiate. Transportation: Are the public transportation system and the college bus service accessible to people with disabilities? If you drive, is convenient accessible parking available? Medical facilities: Is the campus near a major medical center where you can receive specialized arthritis care, if needed? It is a good idea to send copies of your medical records to a doctor or hospital near the college you finally select. Climate: How will the climate of the area affect your arthritis? Building accessibility: Do the buildings you will use most often have ramps, elevators, and wide hallways? How much distance is there between classrooms? Bathrooms: Are there accessible bathrooms in your dorm and academic buildings? Extracurricular activities: Are athletic facilities, student programs, sororities and fraternities, and recreational opportunities accessible and open to people with disabilities?

General Tips

It's easy to suffer academic overload in college. Taking on too much could result in exhaustion or even bring on an arthritis flare. Following these steps could make your life easier.

Preregistration

Some schools may allow you to register early or grant you priority registration for courses. This enables you to select classes at locations and times of the day that accommodate your needs.

Class selection

Allow some time for rest. If classes are scheduled one after another, plan a break after the second one. Or try to avoid scheduling classes back to back, especially if they are not in nearby classrooms. Schedule classes later in the day if morning joint stiffness is a problem.

Reduced course load

Try to take only as many courses as you can handle without stress each semester/quarter. If you do need to cut back, check in advance whether this could affect your financial aid and health insurance. Since your financial aid may require that you maintain a certain number of credit hours, you may need to make special arrangements for it to be continued. If you are carried on your parent's health insurance as a dependent full-time student, you may risk being dropped if your course load falls beneath a certain number of hours.

Communicating with Instructors

Talking with your instructors or teaching assistants before classes begin is highly recommended. Let them know how arthritis or sudden flares could affect your work or ability to complete some assignments or tests on time.

Special Accommodations

You may be allowed to use a note taker, tape recorder or lap-top computer, or other equipment if you have difficulty writing because of your arthritis. Special seating can also be arranged.

Exam Modifications

You may request extended time for test taking, an afternoon test time, an oral instead of written exam, or other needed modifications.

Residential Issues

Choosing a place to live while at college is a very important decision. As a freshman, you may be required to live in a dorm on campus. Even so, you will have choices to make. Some guidelines to help you are offered here.

Know Your Choices

The most important aspect of choosing a place to live is to actually see what you are choosing. Be sure to make an appointment to see your room options and to test the room for your specific needs.

Get to Know Your Room

Once you have been assigned a room, make an appointment to go through and see what specific changes you may need. Some schools will make changes for you. If not, they will usually agree to let you make the necessary changes.

Explore Attendant and Roommate Choices

For many new college students, independence is the most important aspect of going to college. Do not, however, be afraid to consider having an attendant or roommate to help. Doing laundry, shopping, cleaning, and other things on top of school could very easily overwhelm you both physically and emotionally. It is a good idea to have an attendant at least for the first quarter/semester of college, until you become accustomed to the routine. This person should be flexible. What he/she will be asked to do often depends on your energy and physical level. It is very important for you to be honest with your attendant, and to do what you can. On the other hand, your attendant must understand that this is a job and that you depend on him/her. Start your search for an attendant early. Try your school's disabled student services office, local health agencies, and ads in the school's student newspaper. The best option, however, may be an ad posted in the hall you live in while the previous year's students are still in the hall. Just showing up and asking your floormates to help can lead to bad feelings. Be very cautious about asking a good friend to be your attendant. In some cases, this can strengthen a friendship. However, since your attendant will be your employee, this can be a touchy situation between friends. Payment will greatly increase your chances of attracting an attendant. Most schools' residential life programs offer some sort of compensation; some give attendants free room. Some federal programs like vocational rehabilitation also pay for attendant care.

Get to Know Your Resident Adviser

Contact your resident advisor (RA) as soon as possible. Let them know if you have any special emergency needs, what to do, and whom to contact. Let your RA know if you are having problems adjusting to dorm or college life. Your RA is also an excellent resource for campus activities, organizations, and events.

Don't Be Afraid to Participate

Because accessible rooms tend to be constructed differently, they may be a little out of the way of other rooms. Try to let people know you're on the floor, and don't hide out in your room. With your RA's assistance, take part in programs and activities that are put on by residence halls or individual floors.

Be Honest

If you think people are treating you poorly or differently, call them on it. If you don't feel comfortable doing this alone, call in your RA. Your floor/hall is a community, and you have a right to be an equal member of it. After a year or two, you may think about living off-campus. A dorm provides housing, food, companionship, and security, but it may be restrictive. On the other hand, the independence of living off-campus has to be balanced against the loss of these support services.

A Note About Drugs and Alcohol:

In college, people you know may pressure you to drink or try illegal drugs. You may be tempted to go along with them. However, as a person with arthritis, you should be very careful about drinking and illegal drugs. They can produce dangerous reactions when combined with the drugs you take for medical reasons. You also risk falling and other accidents that could damage your joints. By combining loans, grants, and scholarships, you may be able to put together a comprehensive financial aid package. Since different schools may offer different types of aid, you may be able to "shop around" to get the best deal. But money shouldn't be your only criterion for selecting a school: overall educational quality and your career goals count too. Vocational rehabilitation assistance Your state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agency is an excellent source of information about financial aid and other kinds of help for students with disabilities. The help VR offers may include: Tuition expenses: Your VR counselor can direct you to sources of financial aid, including federal and state programs. If these do not cover your expenses and you meet VR's eligibility requirements, the agency may also be able to provide tuition assistance to make up the difference. In many cases, your VR counselor will work with financial aid administrators at post secondary schools to provide support. Medical services Transportation and other assistive devices Personal assistance services to promote independent living To qualify for VR assistance, you must meet certain requirements. It is important to get in touch with VR as early as possible, because the agency will not pay for anything it has not specifically authorized. In addition, VR rarely pays for graduate education or an out-of-state college.

Federal Student Financial Aid

United States Government student aid programs can help you pay for most kinds of education after high school--whether you plan on attending a professional school, a vocational or technical school, or college. Some federal aid is in the form of grants that do not have to be repaid. Other aid, in the form of loans, does have to be repaid. The financial aid office in the college you select can give you information about these and other aid programs. To qualify for federal aid, you must have financial need and be working toward a degree or certificate in a participating school. Financial need is defined as the difference between the cost of education and the expected family contribution to that cost. Some aid is only for undergraduate education--studies that lead to a bachelor's degree. Other aid includes graduate education--studies that lead to a master's degree or doctorate. The following kinds of aid are available.

Federal Pell Grants

Need-based awards for undergraduate education. They do not have to be repaid.

Federal Stafford Loans

Stafford Loans are low-interest loans made to undergraduate and graduate students attending school at least half time. These loans are made regardless of financial need, but you may have to repay them sooner if you do not have financial need.

Federal PLUS Loans

PLUS loans are made to parents with good credit histories to help them pay for their dependent child's education.

Federal Supplemental Loans for Students (SLS)

SLS loans are made to independent undergraduate or graduate or professional students who are enrolled at least half time.

Federal Perkins Loans

Perkins Loans are low-interest loans for undergraduate and graduate students with exceptional financial need. Priority is given to Pell Grant recipients.

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG)

FSEOGs are awarded to undergraduates with exceptional financial need and do not have to be repaid.

Federal Work Study

The work-study program provides jobs for undergraduate and graduate students who need financial aid. You will earn at least the federal minimum wage and may work on or off campus. Community service is encouraged. To apply for aid under any of these programs, you must fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It is available from your school, or on the web. Apply as early as possible. Two important notes: You must reapply for federal aid every year. If you change schools, your aid does not necessarily follow you. Check with your new school on what steps to take.

AmeriCorps

You can earn education benefits in exchange for grass-roots community work through the AmeriCorps program created by the National and Community Service Trust Act. You must be 17 or older and a high school graduate (or agree to earn a General Education Diploma). You can work full or part time. You will earn a salary and receive health insurance if you don't already have it. In addition, you will receive a lump sum of money be used as a scholarship or to pay back student loans. Special funds have been set aside to help individuals with disabilities take part in AmeriCorps programs. Contact the Corporation for National and Community Service, 1100 Vermont Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.20525

State Financial Aid

State governments offer several kinds of financial aid for post secondary education to state residents. Most states offer the following: Student Incentive Grants Robert C. Bird Honors Scholarships for students of outstanding academic achievement National Science Scholars Programs (NSSP) to students excelling in math and the sciences Paul Douglas Teacher Scholarship Programs for students who want to become teachers Individual states offer a variety of other grants, loans, and scholarships to students who qualify. For information, contact your state Department of Education or Student Finance Commission.

Private Financial Aid

Not many scholarships are awarded on the basis of a student's disability. However, if you are a good student, there are many other avenues for financial aid. Start early--your junior year in high school is not too soon--and be resourceful. It takes research and effort, but it could be well worth it. Check out: college financial aid offices the reference section of your local public library religious organizations, business groups, charitable foundations, and fraternal, community, professional, and civic organizations the Electronic Industries Foundation for scholarships to students with disabilities who are pursuing technical and science degrees at the undergraduate and graduate level your parents' employers or trade union Social security If you are receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, you need to consider how your financial aid or income from work could affect them. SSI is a monthly payment made to people with disabilities if their income and resources are below a certain level. In most states, children who receive SSI benefits are automatically eligible for Medicaid. Therefore, additional income could potentially lower or threaten your SSI and Medicaid benefits. Fortunately, the Social Security Administration's work incentive and Plan for Achieving Self-Support programs offer a way for you to accept financial aid, or work, without losing your SSI or Medicaid benefits. In addition, your parents' income and resources will not be counted when Social Security figures out your SSI benefits after you turn 18. If you are a student, most scholarships or grants used to pay for tuition, books, and other expenses related to getting an education may not be counted as income if you go to school or are in a training program. In addition, a certain amount of the earnings of students under age 22 may not be counted as income. If you are working, benefits under the work incentive program include the following: You may continue to receive SSI payments until your income exceeds the SSI limits. Medicaid will usually continue even if you earn more than the SSI limits, if you cannot afford similar medical care and depend on Medicaid in order to work. Certain work expenses related to your disability may be subtracted when your income is calculated for SSI purposes. For example, if you need a wheelchair, modifications to a car, or attendant care services in order to work, the payments you make would be considered work expenses and this amount would not be counted as income. The PASS program Social Security's Plan for Achieving Self-Support (PASS) program allows a person with a disability to set aside income or resources for a definite period of time to reach a work goal. For example, for up to four years you could set aside money for an education, vocational training, or starting a business. This money would not be counted as part of your income or resources and would therefore not reduce your SSI payment. PASS could also pay for personal assistance services or a computer. Your PASS must be in writing and must contain specific goals and information. It must be approved by the Social Security Administration. For more information about SSI, call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213.

Credits

Some of this material may also be available in an Arthritis Foundation brochure. Contact the Washington/Alaska Chapter Helpline: (800) 542-0295. If dialing from outside of WA and AK, contact the National Helpline: (800) 283-7800. This material is protected by copyright.